The season starts here: Loreto the ones to catch in women’s EYHL

After a ground-breaking summer for Irish hockey, the World Cup stars have dispersed far and wide ahead of the new women’s club season which gets underway in earnest this weekend.

At EYHL level, Loreto go into the season as reigning national champions having won the EY Champions Trophy last May, upsetting the odds after sneaking into the playoffs with a fourth place finish in the regular season.

Loreto celebrate their Champions Trophy success. Pic: Adrian Boehm

And they look to have strengthened for the new campaign with the arrival of Liz Murphy, an Under-21 goalkeeper who has earned international caps in the past year.

She joins Irish stars like Hannah Matthews and Ali Meeke in their line-up and rising star Sarah Torrans who came close to a call-up to the World Cup panel.

Their first test is an away date at Farmer’s Cross in a repeat of last year’s national final. Cork Harlequins were runners-up in both the EYHL and the Champions Trophy and they will hope to be there or thereabouts once again with Cliodhna Sargent available from the start of the season this time out.

The Cork side will miss the services of Roisin Upton who is back at her original club, Catholic Institute in Limerick, where she hopes to bolster their promotion bid from EYHL Division 2. Naomi Carroll, meanwhile, will undergo knee surgery.

UCD – the regular season winners last year – will provide strong opposition but will face a year of rejuvenation with Deirdre Duke and Katie Mullan graduating to professional clubs in Germany after several years with collidge.

In total, six of their mainstays have moved on while nine have come in. They will, however, have to wait to see Lena Tice in action as she remains down under where she won the New Zealand Hockey League last weekend. They will be without Ellen Curran – recovering from a tonsilectomy – and Hannah McLoughlin for their opener with Pegasus

Pegs have a high quality coaching panel on board with Greg Thompson joined by Andy Smyth, Arlene Boyles and Sharon Moffett. Kerri McDonald is their marquee addition as they look to turn strong runs into trophies after an Irish Senior Cup final and EY Champions Trophy semi-final run last term.

Railway Union just missed out on the playoffs a year ago by a single point but have recruited well with Niamh Sweeney, Cliona McCullough and Carolyn Crampton arriving from Trinity.

They have an interesting first test against a promoted Old Alex side intent on making their mark on the league. Ivan Ovington has come back to coach the side in his third spell and they have plenty of big players in place with Aine Connery an eye-catching addition.

Belfast Harlequins enjoyed a solid season in mid-table last year and, with Zoe Wilson, Gemma Frazer and Lizzie Colvin forming an imposing spine to the team, they could be a surprise package.

Pembroke’s Emily Beatty. Pic: Adrian Boehm

First opponents Pembroke fall into a similar variety as Emily Beatty and Gillian Pinder are joined by fellow international Sinead Loughran. Tara Melvin – a member of the 2009 Colaiste Iognaid Kate Russell winning side – is back in Ireland after a spell in the English Premier Division with Bowdon while Lynne Froeschle is an eye-catching new name from Hamburg’s Club an der Alster.

On Sunday, Ards approach the season with a youthful side looking to learn quickly with a number of experienced heads moving on during the summer, offering opportunity for new faces to step in.

They come up against Muckross who have completed a remarkable rise through the Leinster leagues to get back to the national stage they were central to in the 1990s, reaching six Irish Senior Cup finals in eight years.

Their Leinster league success last year was their first in 21 years and has been achieved primarily with development from within. Yasmin Pratt, last season’s top scorer, has decided to stay in Ireland after an offer from the US to study and play hockey, giving their attack real venom.

The season follows the same format as last season with 18 rounds of league games producing an EYHL winner who is guaranteed European hockey next season.

The top four from the league advance to EY Champions Trophy. Bottom place is relegated automatically while second last goes into a playoff tie to decide their fate.

Women’s EY Hockey League fixtures

Saturday: Cork Harlequins v Loreto, 1.05pm, Farmer’s Cross; Old Alex v Railway Union, 2pm, Milltown; Belfast Harlequins v Pembroke, 2.30pm, Deramore Park; Pegasus v UCD, 4pm, Belfast HS

Sunday: Muckross v Ards, 3.15pm, Muckross Park

Team by team previews:
Belfast Harlequins
Cork Harlequins
Old Alex
Railway Union

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